On Everyday Filmmaking

The Mundane and the Magical: Filmmaking of Every Day

Nalini Malani: ‘Can You Hear Me’, film projections, Whitechapel Gallery (2020 – 2021)

I would like to write an article about the intimacy of everyday artmaking. This is not that article; the following text is adapted from a proposal I’ve recently submitted to a writing prize on the theme of experimental filmmaking.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of an art that the artist lives alongside, that gives unprecedented access to another’s mind, that articulates the human process of forming opinions, learning and expressing oneself through a creative practice; and how filmmaking, especially on an easily accessible device such as a smartphone, has the potential to achieve this interesting potential.

This is a discussion prompted by the current ‘animation chamber’ installation of Nalini Malani at Whitechapel Gallery. Malani is an internationally renowned Indian artist who has been operating for over 50 years in a rich variety of media. Malani is a socially engaged artist, celebrated for her activism and championing of marginalised voices; the current exhibition has been referred to as ‘living graffiti’, a term apt for the urgent messages, spiky painting style, and spontaneous emotion of the animations.

This presentation consists of new animated shorts that Malani made while travelling over the past two years; not having access to her studio and usual working methods, she started to use her iPad as a mobile workspace, visual diary, living notebook. There are 88 animations projected in ‘Can You Hear Me’, incorporating sound, text and cultural references from art history to news events, overlapping and competing in the dark, brick-walled gallery space (the old reading room of the Whitechapel Library). There is an intimacy of this frenetic sketchbooking; the content and the medium of the artwork provides a glimpse into the mind of the artist.

iPad, iPhone, smartphones have become mundane in their ubiquity, with almost everyone having professional-standard filmmaking equipment in their back pocket. Increasingly artists and creatives have started using this commonplace technology to make new work, though not as quickly as might have been supposed. Perhaps a contrary insistence on the analogue has hindered the acceptance of smartphone usage. But highly acclaimed films such as Tangerine (2015) has turned the smartphone into a tool for reclaiming culture from elites, increasing accessibility and inclusivity, enabling DIY making. 

Still from Tangerine, dir. Sean Baker (Magnolia Pictures, 2015)

Charlotte Prodger won the 2018 Turner Prize with a highly personal film essay, Bridgit (2016), which contrasts a queer journey of self-discovery with native landscapes and ancient Pagan mythologies. I watched this film during the Turner Prize exhibition in Tate Britain in autumn of 2018, on a school trip from our college just next door. I thought it was an amazing piece, my choice for a winner, and not just because of a Glasgow-based artist bias.

Shot on the artist’s iPhone, an object constantly on their person, constantly touched, always within reach, an extension of the self, brings a more natural intimacy to the muted, quotidian scenes of bedsheets, windows and skin. Police now will trace your smartphone as a stand-in for your bodily whereabouts. A substitute for the self, an enhancement, a document of a location and a life.

Charlotte Prodger: Still from BRIDGIT, dur. 32 mins (2016)

I like to imagine Malani scrawling on her iPad at 1am in a Paris hotel room; the Tangerine filmmakers checking their emails on their phones before racing around late night streets; Prodger angling her cameraphone trying to get the perfectly no-effort shot, and swearing when the phone falls under the bed. Having iPhones, iPads, smart technology and using their cameras and apps ourselves gives us knowledge of beyond what is shown on the screen; we can imagine dating app notifications popping up, batteries dying before their time, and also imagine what we could do with our toys if we had the talent and inclination.

So yes, there is something in here that would make a good article one day …

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